Homeless people often suffer from a wide range of problems beyond the immediate and obvious lack of accommodation, food and warm clothing.
The biggest single cause of homelessness in the UK is relationship breakdown, which is evidently a distressing factor in its own right. Compounding this, homelessness brings with it uncertainty, anxiety, isolation, trauma and possibly abuse – all of which have adverse health effects, both emotionally and physically. Above all, it’s about loss. Losing a home, a sense of belonging, a support network, security, self-respect, and many other things.
It’s no wonder then that many homeless people have mental health issues, in particular depression, which may have directly contributed to or been brought about by their homelessness. Incredibly rough sleepers are 35 times more likely to commit suicide than the rest of the population. Even among those who aren’t rough-sleeping and live in temporary accommodation, over 70 per cent admit to being depressed, according to Shelter.
Many suffer from addiction issues that have often been exacerbated by living on the streets. Crime and violence against homeless people are not uncommon either, meaning that rough sleepers especially live in fear of being attacked. What all of this means is that the average homeless person will have undoubtedly suffered some degree of physical and emotional trauma. Trauma that needs to be worked through.
Counselling is just one of the ways we can help homeless people work through the issues they have and ultimately rebuild their lives. It can be instrumental in breaking the dependency caused by alcohol and drug abuse, combatting self-esteem problems and depression, and tackling unhealthy patterns of behaviour that hinder recovery.
Since our formation in 1994, Mustard Tree have helped many people get their lives back on track through our Freedom and Dignity projects, which have included an in-house counselling service for the last three years. Some of stories from people who have taken part in the projects give an insight into how our clients are feeling when they come to us. They reveal the types of problems that we try to address with counselling, including depression, coping with loss, and addiction:
“When I first started volunteering at the Mustard Tree I was an alcoholic. The Freedom Project team have provided me with a mentor, a recovered alcoholic himself, who I meet up with every week. They also referred me onto one of the Mustard Tree counsellors, who I have been meeting with weekly. Thanks to these avenues of support I have now been sober for 11 months.”
“I wanted to get back into a working routine after a long period doing almost nothing. During that time I had been getting more and more depressed and I needed to break that cycle. Up until early last year, I was still planning suicide and things were pretty bleak.”
“Before coming to the Mustard Tree I had been through a string of major life changes. I finished my degree, my mum passed away, my mentor (who was a significant person to me) also passed away and I split up from my long-term girlfriend. I was left in a situation where I felt like I had no life. I’d been a carer, a student and a partner, and all that had gone. When you lose all the things that define you, it is an awful place to be.”
You can read the full Life Stories here to get a better idea of the state of mind of our clients and the types of problems that our counsellors deal with.
We currently have one fully trained counsellor, Melanie Camu, who runs our Ancoats-based service, assisted by two trainee counsellors. Counselling takes place at Mustard Tree three times a week. Currently the service can only be accessed by our Freedom and Dignity Project participants, as part of the work we do in assisting them to rebuild their lives.
We are looking to expand this service in the near future by adding additional qualified volunteer counsellors to the team. If you have the spare time to give to our clients, we would very much like to hear from you. Please contact email@example.com for further information.
Written by Jamie Faulkner, FireCask